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The Gift of Presence

The Gift of Presence

by Katie Leone, Impact and Sustainability Manager, Southwest Florida Community Foundation

When I was little, I loved participating in our church’s charitable toy drive. My mom would let me choose the gift tag from the tree and go shopping with her to buy what the child requested. It was exciting to see the tags on the tree diminish as the presents under the tree for the sponsored children grew. Another holiday favorite of mine was baking pies and cookies with my mom. We would exchange them with our neighbors, who were like our extended family. As I grow older, I cherish the memories of spending quality time with loved ones more than I do the memories of frenzied gift opening.

Nowadays, the whole gift-giving thing throws me into a state of panic. I was raised Catholic and am now a sustainability practitioner by trade, so the whole overconsumption thing makes me feel both guilt and shame. At the risk of sounding Scrooge-like (or maybe worse—a bad holiday card), my advice to readers this holiday season is to skip the stuff and focus on the important things in life.

Sounds nice on a card, but how would that work in practice? First, make a commitment to unplug. I grew up before smartphones and social media. My mom and I used to read books together, take walks, and cook. Today we are more connected than ever, but quality, in-person interactions are lacking. Try setting technological boundaries such as eating meals with family and friends without any smart devices in the room (not even your Apple Watch).

Second, give back. Use your time, talents, and treasures to make a difference in your community. If you don’t know where to start, try creating a new holiday tradition. Volunteer somewhere with people you love, or simply take a holiday stroll with a bag and gloves to pick up litter as you carol. If that is too out of character for you, consider donating on behalf of someone you love. Think of ways to make an impact for your loved ones they can witness and find joy in.

Finally, give thoughtfully.  Consider buying an experience. Try a seed-to-table or artisan-led cooking classes taught by a local chef. Register for a community art class or donate to a non-profit that offers nature walks. Enlist the expertise of community organizations to learn crafts like soap making or food preservation.

Focus on what really matters this holiday season and create new traditions. You won’t regret it.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.8 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $79.9 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit


Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!